Sunday, September 7, 2008

Aurora Leigh, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

To close the cover of this little book
Is tantamount to falling back asleep -
You've just undreamed the vision you were in,
And claw your way back into Morpheus hall,
To seek a one amongst the mass of all,
Like Orpheus, in Hades, and like he
You cannot help but stop and look behind
E'en though it leaves you staring at a loss
That could have been a gain.
I read this book,
First through when I was newly giv'n a son,
(My third to be precise). I read aloud,
The slow sweet cant of iambs, as I rocked
To put the child asleep. Some nights I strained
Against Ms Barret's bit. Some nights I thought
How nice 'twould be to do more important things
Than whisper in that newly fashioned ear.
I cannot say I read it with my heart -
My wife and mother in law one day remarked
It had the droning rhythm of a chant
Of Catholic priest, in oft-repeated mass.
The mother I cannot say, but as for wife
I do not think she meant a compliment.

But even so, it swept me up at times
In a time when I took care to not be swept
And I remembered dearest Marian Erle,
And knew enough to think the naming odd
Of Voldemort, and Lady Waldemar -
Are v's and ld's and ar's so fraught with ill?

But reading it again, I peeped across
The startling vista of a novel of verse -
A tale of love, perhaps? A tale of love!
As if Midsummer's Eve were a tale of flowers!
As if the Bible were a tale of sand!
The horse is there, without the fiery brand!

Aurora Leigh is 'daughter of her age'
A phrase I borrow from Virginia Woolf
Who uttered it, and promptly was ignored
To leave the book behind perhaps to rot -
The memory of the wife of someone great
(For Robert Browning kept her for a wife!
If keeping is the word for such a love)

It was recovered - I will not say how
Suffice to say, that politics came in.
As lovely as the cause, I like to dream
That such a pretty creature, lived, herself
To find a home in bookshelves like my own.

To read Aurora Leigh is to regret
That you have ever written a conceit.
To read Aurora Leigh is to be glad
That others wrote, and told you how to truth.

It isn't perfect. Daughter of it's age
It wears a petticoat with too much flounce
It buttons up it's neck a bit too high
Sometimes it dreams too long and moves too short.
But somehow, all it's faults render it whole
A less imperfect piece would be less sweet.
The starch bears symbolism far too deep
For any poet to grasp out consciously.

The picture, by the way, is not my own
(Who knew I wasn't female, narrow-necked
or pretty when I sleep?) It bore a line
That broke my heart when I read it as well:

Earth's crammed with Heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries

And after Good Ms Brownings better feet
Of iamb, I perhaps had best conclude
Content to say, that poetry - or faith -
Is best restored by Browning - and a line
or two, or maybe seventeen

The heavens were making room to hold the night,
The sevenfold heavens unfolding all their gate
To let the stars out slowly (prophesied
In close-approaching advent, not discerned),
While still the cue-owls from the cypresses
Of the Poggio called and counted every pulse
Of the skyey palpitation. Gradually
The purple and transparent shadows slow
Had filled up the whole valley to the brim,
and flooded all the city which you saw
As some drowned city in some enchanted sea,
Cut off from nature, -Drawing you who gaze,
With passionate desire, to leap and plunge,
And find a sea-king with a voice of waves,
And treacherous soft eyes, and slippery locks
You cannot kiss but you shall bring away
Their salt upon your lips.


Amanda said...

No wonder it took you so long to write this review. Iambic are such a dork.

And btw, I didn't notice the Catholic priest thing until my mom pointed it out. And it wasn't an insult from me, it was completely neutral, I swear. As for my mom, it was bewildering, and then funny.

hamilcar barca said...

awesomely done, Jason. or, to put it another way...

I think, therefore iamb.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Jason, you've outdone yourself this time.

I was laughing out loud at some parts of that.

Julie said...

I've had to read a few times now to catch all of that. It's quite amazing and amusing, actually.

Unknown said...

Jen, I want you to know, I'm expecting your next Mexico research book review to be written entirely in Aztec pictograph, now...

Rebecca Reid said...

Wow, this is the best book review I've read in a long time! I've added Elizabeth Barrett Browning to my to read list!

Unknown said...

Thank you, Ms Reid :). If I've given someone the urge to go enjoy Ms Browning, I can't imagine any better compliment.

Amber said...

wow. I've always admired amanda's dedication (to her blog, her craft, to not slacking off in general), and now this. very impressive. I'll have to take it line by line and furrow my brow with concentration to understand it, but just that it was done at all!